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Illini basketball preview: American University

Illinois’s first road trip of the year ended 2-1 with a trophy from whatever that was in Las Vegas. Not bad, right? Against Indiana State turnovers were a problem and against Baylor rebounding plagued the Illini, but both games ended in wins because of the resilience of the players. It would be hard to say that Illinois lacked resilience against #15 Miami, but in its first true road game (actually on the Canes’ court) the team just couldn’t find its way to a win and probably left a bad taste in fans’ mouths.

The biggest problem in Miami was one that will likely be one that bothers fans a few times this season: Poor shooting. The Illini shot just 33% on field goals (23% on threes) because they were unable to get multiple people hot or sustain their hot shooting. The Miami game looked a like the Brown game (30% FG shooting in the first half), except that the unreal second half never materialized. With Illinois’s shooters, this is going to happen, you just hope it doesn’t happen against the Miami’s of the world, who can slow the game down and capitalize on the missed baskets.

One thing many fans were upset about (on Twitter at least) was Egwu’s play, but that’s unfounded. Sure, he isn’t hitting Rayvonte Rice-like highs so far this season, but where would Illinois have been without his 8 points and 9 rebounds? The real issue with Egwu on Tuesday was that he didn’t have the support he needed. When he helped on a pick and roll or one of Angel Rodriguez’s drives, he had no one picking up his man, leading Miami to easy points. This is likely because Leron Black got into foul trouble and Malcolm Hill is not a true forward. This struggle with wing players filling in could be a weakness for Illinois as it goes forward, but the hope is Black and Hill (and Nunn to a lesser degree) learn their roles better and provide better help defense.

Any weakness of Illinois’s is not likely to be exposed when the team returns home to play American (4-3) on Saturday (tip at 1 p.m.), however. The Illini are still a top-25 team according to, whereas American is 156.

The Eagles’ biggest struggle is on the offensive end, where they’re adjusted offensive efficiency (points per 100 possessions) is just 94.3 (the Illini are at 105.6). The Eagles are pretty good on the defensive end (efficiency of 93.6), but still not as good as Illinois (90.9). These stats could be misleading, too, as American hasn’t played a top-60 team yet this year.

My prediction: Illinois rolls the Eagles, 89-54.

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